Problems from the right

The first time I saw a new-Nazi march here, right past our window on Bornholmer, it was more amusing than appalling. There were maybe 30 people involved, more than half evidently from out of town, surrounded by hundreds of police and probably thousands of protestors. Before it happened, locals distributed flyers asking people along the march to blast their stereos and drown out the marchers. I figured a Chipmunks song was fairly appropriate.

Another right-winger march happened yesterday in Lichtenberg (a relatively poor eastern neighborhood known for its right-leaning tendencies). This time the numbers were more daunting. According to the Morgenpost, about 750 marchers (ie, neo-Nazi types) showed up, with about 700 protestors. Naturally police presence was high, with 1600 cops on the beat. Bottles were thrown, and somewhere around 70 people arrested, from both sides.

That’s a lot of marchers. Berlin is overwhelmingly liberal, even left-wing, with a fabulous gay mayor and anti-Nazi stickers and graffiti everywhere. It’s never going to fall too far to the right. But economic dislocation could well swell the extreme fringes on both sides. That hasn’t worked out well here in the past.

New look at old sculptures

I worried when I first heard of the Egyptian Museum’s curatorial mash-up, sprinkling Alberto Giacometti sculptures into the ancient collection. A modernist and the ancients — potentially interesting, I thought, like seeing Picasso’s work next to the African art he drew on, but plenty of room for over-curated fluff.

We stopped by today. I shouldn’t have worried. It’s brilliant, shedding light on Giacometti in ways I would likely never have noticed on my own. He was apparently entranced by Egyptian art, spending long periods of time studying and sketching ancient sculpture. The collection shows books that had belonged to him, with his own versions of pieces sketched in next to pictures of the originals.

The exhibition works in much the same way, placing a dozen or so of his sculptures next to pieces of a genre that served as obvious models, or inspiration. Tall, eerie striding man next to a classic Egyptian walking man with one leg outstretched, portrait busts that shared structure (and almost the same foreheads), twisted beautiful figures that display feeling and personality in stylized form.

Well worth the visit, particularly on a free museum day.

I’m only beginning to understand Egyptian sculpture, thanks to a visit to the Met last summer. I’d always loved Greek and the best of the Roman (Romans copied dreadfully, but they also gave real personality to what in Greece was often simply beautiful). But even thousands of years before the Greeks, the Egyptians were creating busts and full statues of stunning, almost frighteningly realistic personality. In the Altes, Nefertiti’s head gets all the press, but a little piece called the Green Head is far better — a stone head of a priest, I think, that expresses force and power and personhood in every expert line.

“Crowdfunding” journalism? Kind of sounds familiar…

Here’s the latest buzzy idea for saving journalsm: Be Obama.

Crowdfunding, as described here is essentially allowing (hopefully) large numbers of people to contribute small amounts of money to fund journalistic endeavors., for example, posts lists of potential stories, lets freelancers sign up (or contribute their own ideas), and then lets people donate money toward funding of the story. Once the story tops up with cash, it gets reported and written.

So, yeah, worked great for Obama, right? Crowdfunded his way right to the White House. Except it seems to me that journalism maybe has tried more or less this before. I think maybe it was called subscriptions, back in the day when people got newspapers thrown at their windows by bleary-eyed sixth-graders. Or, if you prefer the broadcast metaphor, maybe we can think about pledge drives.

In fact this model does work reasonably well if the crowd is forced to fund, as is the case with BBC or German TV here. Of course that’s not a market-friendly strategy, but that whole market-knows-best thing is looking pretty threadbare these days anyway.

Not that I’m arguing that all journalism should be supported by a mandated fee of some kind. But it sure seems that if old journalistic values are going to be maintained at any level, it might be a good way of doing things.

Silver lining on CA’s disgraceful same-sex marriage vote

Maybe the single serious bleak spot on Tuesday’s brilliant electoral map was the success of Prop. 8 in California, amending the state’s constitution to outlaw same-sex marriage. Funded by millions of dollars from the conservative Christians who nearly took over state politics in the early 1990s, by deep Mormon pockets, and with a fear-driven campaign that made McCain/Palin look like smiling purveyors of happy pills, the initiative drew a surprising 52 percent support despite the huge Obama turnout.


What this means is that thousands of couples who have married in the last few months now face the prospect of the state revoking that status. Hundreds of thousands more lose the right. A jarring reality, given the sense of new dawn elsewhere in the country.

But a friend and fellow writer, Paul Festa (whose marriage is one of those now truly at risk) writes persuasively in The Daily Beast that opponents of Prop. 8 see some silver lining in the numbers — 52 percent support for this proposition, compared to 61 percent support for a same-sex marriage ban in 2000.

If you really want to know who will decide this issue if it comes up in 2012, ask 14-to-17 year olds, who will be voting in their first presidential election. Those straight supremacists playing with Mormon campaign contributions? Culture war dead-enders. Last night the gay movement lost a battle. The war, launched in the early 1950s by activists Harry Hay, Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, we’re winning decisively.

Worth a read.

A beautiful moment

People can debate the semantics of landslides all they want. This is undeniably one of the great moments in American political history, and Obama one of its great figures.

It is encouraging, even inspiring, that an American political system showing such tattered edges over recent cycles can lead to this. A majority of the country has repudiated Bush and the party that spawned him. The tragedy is that we’ll be living under Bush’s shadow for years to come.

Already the conservatives are debating strategies for opposition. That’s natural. I would love to see the spirit of McCain’s gracious concession speech inspire Washington for at least a few months, but more likely is that aside from McCain himself, the minority party will leave the hard choices entirely to the new majority, and let the Democrats take the blame for the sacrifices that will be need to be made.

But that’s later. Today’s for dancing.